Patterson-Carmack Debate

The Patterson-Carmack Debate

On May 20, 1908 the Governor of Tennessee, Malcolm Patterson, engaged in a debate in Dickson, Tennessee with his opponent, Edward Carmack. Patterson was serving as the 30th Governor of Tennessee at the time. He won the election of 1906, served a two-year term, and was now running for reelection in 1908.

His opponent, Edward Carmack, was challenging him for the Democratic nomination for Governor. Carmack started off his political career by defeating Malcom Patterson’s father, Josiah Patterson, for a U.S. House of Representatives seat in 1896. He later served as a US Senator, but failed to be reelected, so now he was running for governor.

This particular election was very contentious because the Democratic Party was beginning to split over prohibition and these two men were on opposite sides of the issue. All across the state, momentum was building to get rid of alcohol completely.

The Democratic Party, the most popular party in Tennessee at the time, was split over the issue. Governor Patterson was on the “wet” side, in favor of alcohol being legal, while Edward Carmack was on the “dry side,” favoring prohibition.

The two men were going around the state debating the issue when their tour made a stop in Dickson. When they arrived by train there were over 4,000 people there to greet them at the depot. The swelling crowd contained not only people from Dickson County, but also people from surrounding counties that had come to hear these two men speak.

The event was marked by a fight at the edge of the crowd. Two bulldogs started fighting and a lady was bitten. A constable attempted to break up the dog fight using his billy club, but when one of the dog owners saw the constable hit his dog, the dog owner tried to fight the constable. Before the incident concluded both of the dogs were put down by law enforcement.

Tennessse very heavily supported Democrats at this time and so whoever won the Democratic primary had a good chance of winning the general election later that fall. Patterson narrowly defeated Carmack in the primary and went on to be reelected.

After the loss, Carmack decided to leave politics altogether. He took a job as the editor of the newly formed “Nashville Tennessean” newspaper. Before he got into politics, Carmack had worked at several newspapers. He started off at the “Nashville American” under his mentor Duncan Cooper. He left Nashville and moved back to his hometown of Memphis where he became the editor of the “Commercial Appeal.” He worked at that newspaper in Memphis up until the time he decided to run for office.

After Governor Patterson won the general election and was reelected, Carmack began using his new position at the newspaper to launch a smear campaign against the governor, accusing him of “dishonor,” among other things. Carmack also lashed out at his old mentor at the Nashville American, Duncan Cooper, who had supported Patterson instead of him in the governor’s race.

Cooper resented Carmack and sent a message to him, stating, “If my name appears again (in your newspaper), the town will not be big enough to hold us both,” Carmack refused to stop, he continued printing things about Cooper and Patterson.

Governor Patterson heard that Cooper was angry with Carmack and asked Cooper to meet with him at the Governor’s residence in Nashville on November 9, 1908. Robin Cooper, Duncan’s son, decided to accompany his father. The former sheriff of Davidson County also came along due to the fact that Carmack lived on the same street as the Governor.

As the men were walking down the street, they saw Carmack outside talking to a woman. Carmack had been told earlier in the day that Cooper was looking for him with the intent of killing him. As Cooper crossed the street he called out Carmack’s name. Carmack then pulled out his gun and said, “You dastardly coward!” Duncan’s son, Robin Cooper, attempted to get between them, but just as he did, Carmack fired his gun. The first shot went into Robin's shoulder. Robin then drew his gun and started moving toward Carmack. Carmack then fired a second shot that just missed Robin. Robin returned fired, shooting Carmack three times, killing him instantly.

The Coopers were convicted of killing Carmack, but Governor Patterson pardoned them.

Edward Carmack’s death created a martyr for the prohibitionist crusade. In January of 1909, a bill was introduced in the Tennessee General Assembly that outlawed the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages in the state.

Governor Patterson vetoed the bill stating, “for a State.. to attempt to control what the people shall eat and drink and wear… is tyranny, and not liberty.” The bill passed over the governor’s veto and went into effect in 1909.